Facebook probing if data breach affected Singapore users

Mr Simon Milner, Facebook's Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy, appears before Singapore's Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods on March 22, 2018.
Mr Simon Milner, Facebook's Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy, appears before Singapore's Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods on March 22, 2018.PHOTO: GOV.SG

Facebook is investigating if any of its Singapore users' personal information was inappropriately obtained and shared with British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Affected users will be informed, the tech giant's Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy, Mr Simon Milner, said yesterday at a Select Committee hearing on deliberate online falsehoods.

He also said Facebook is looking into whether there are other data breaches involving app developers.

His remarks come in the wake of recent media reports about Cambridge Analytica, which is at the centre of a scandal in which it is accused of exploiting the data of more than 50 million Facebook users for commercial and political use.

Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan had used an app to extract the users' information. By allegedly accessing user profiles, the firm could infer the political preferences of United States voters and target personalised messages at them to benefit Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam repeatedly questioned Mr Milner about Cambridge Analytica yesterday, in a lengthy and, at times, heated exchange.

Mr Milner conceded at one point that Facebook "got it wrong" and should have informed users about the data breach, noting that it had a "moral obligation" to do so.

He echoed Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's post yesterday which admitted there was "a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it".

Asked by Mr Shanmugam yesterday if Facebook could be expected to have done more in ensuring the data Cambridge Analytica took inappropriately had been deleted, Mr Milner said: "Yes, given the actions we are now taking."

Mr Shanmugam also questioned if Mr Milner had been "careful and economical" with the truth when he told British MPs last month at a Select Committee inquiry into fake news that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data.

To this, Mr Milner stressed repeatedly that his answers were accurate based on what he knew at the time.

The consultancy had given Facebook a sworn affidavit saying it had no Facebook data, Mr Milner said. He later conceded that in hindsight, he should have "provided a fuller answer to the committee and made them more aware of what we understood to be true".

Mr Shanmugam also asked why Facebook did not verify the certification from Dr Kogan that he and Cambridge Analytica had deleted the data it obtained.

Mr Milner replied: "That is one of the lessons for us, in terms of why we are now going to audit all other apps and not just take their affirmation... that they have deleted data or not passed it on."

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook probing if data breach affected S'pore users'. Print Edition | Subscribe